Kevin McCarthy plays dumb about government officials using Trump properties
Since the beginning of President Trump’s term, he’s been under scrutiny for running the country while profiting off his business empire. A few incidents revealed in recent weeks have heightened that scrutiny.
And as evidenced by this explanation from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Republicans don’t have a way to defend it. Here’s what McCarthy told reporters Tuesday when asked whether he thinks the federal government should be spending money at the president’s resorts:
“The president’s resorts are hotels that he owns. And people are traveling. It’s just like any other hotel. I know people will look at it. I don’t know that that’s different than anything else. Is it different than if I go and stay or eat at a Marriott here or eat at the Trump?”
Such an explanation ignores reality. The president’s hotels aren’t just any hotels. Trump the businessman and Trump the politician are the same, and Trump refuses to do much to extricate one persona from the other.
Though he transferred management responsibilities of the Trump Organization, which runs the hotels, to his sons when he was elected, he didn’t divest from the company. That means when someone stays overnight, or books an event, or buys a meal at a Trump property, Trump still stands to reap some of the profit. That’s true if the one picking up the tab is a private citizen, a campaign organization, a foreign government or company or the U.S. government.
And they all have.
The Washington Post reported in June that White House aides pushed back on his extensive use of Trump properties to facilitate official business. Here’s what my colleagues found then:
Trump has rebuffed such warnings, overruling a recommendation that he not visit his Turnberry golf club in Scotland last summer, according to aides. And in recent months, he has scheduled even more detours from official trips to visit his businesses — golf courses in Ireland, Los Angeles and Doral.
In all, his scores of trips have brought his private businesses at least $1.6 million in revenue, from federal officials and GOP campaigns who pay to go where Trump goes, according to a Washington Post analysis.
The actual amount of money Trump has received as a result of his visits and campaign events is probably much higher than the $1.6 million The Post identified. That’s because most of the records available about government spending date to the first half of 2017 — covering just the first few months of Trump’s presidency so far. And the records of campaign spending don’t account for other revenue that Trump may have made off campaign events, including overnight stays by donors attending the event.
This past weekend, Politico reported that the Air Force has been refueling at airports near Trump properties rather than military bases, and in at least four instances, crews have stayed at a Trump property. That revelation has prompted a House Democratic investigation. And on his recent trip to Ireland, Vice President Pence stayed at a Trump property 180 miles from Dublin, where all his meetings were held.
Trump himself has gone hundreds of miles out of the way to go to his resort in Ireland while visiting two entirely different countries, Britain and France.
And Trump recently said that when it’s the United States’ turn to host the Group of Seven global summit next summer, it will probably be held at his struggling resort in Doral, Fla., despite lawsuits about bedbugs and the fact that it will be hurricane season then.
McCarthy is saying that all these visits are totally fair and nothing to be concerned about. “If it’s in the process,” he finished, “they can stay there.”
The problem with McCarthy defaulting to “the process” to defend what’s happening is that there is no “process” for when a president is also a businessman who hasn’t divested from his business.
There’s no modern-day protocol for this. Trump isn’t required by law to divest, even though most ethics experts agree that he should have; when he became president, the Office of Government Ethics highly recommended it. Instead, Trump handed over the day-to-day running of his business to his sons and told Americans to trust him that he wouldn’t talk about it, therefore avoiding potential conflicts of interest.
A Post analysis has found that Trump’s businesses have been declining in recent years, with a few notable exceptions. Some Trump-branded hotels have cut ties with the president and even taken his name off their properties since his election, but the Trump hotel in Washington started making a profit after he took office. It’s blocks from the White House.
Saudi government and business executives have boosted Trump’s hotels in Chicago and New York, a fact that became more conspicuous after Trump’s refusal to condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following the death of Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi. (Senate Republicans rebuked Trump’s handling of this and even essentially accused Trump of covering up Mohammed’s involvement.) Robert De Niro held an anti-Trump rally outside Trump Tower in New York.
Republicans may not have an answer for why the government under Trump is spending lots of money at Trump properties. But they’ll probably have to talk much more about it: House Democrats are wrapping this issue into their impeachment inquiry.